Let’s leave Ontario’s frosty weather and go…to equally cold climates?
The Christmas Lights
Couple Zach and Bo are the free-spirited Instagrammers whose wanderlust account has millions of followers. The couple heads to exotic destinations and takes part in thrill-seeking experiences right across the globe, which is how the pair come to stay at an off-the-grid shelf farm, owned by mountain guide Anders and his grandmother, Signy, in Norway in the middle of winter.
“…but the ferry from the nearby village of Hellesylt stopped running in the autumn and the fleets of giant cruise boats that choked the fjord nine months of the year didn’t visit during the winter due to sea ice. And that was precisely the reason she and Zac had chosen to come now; they wanted to be here when it was in its ‘natural’ state: no tourists, no ferries. They wanted it bleak, remote, imperious, untouched.”
Norway’s beauty comes alive the moment the couple board Anders’ boat.
“Now that they were out on the water, the true majesty of the fjord began to impose itself. The cliffs were like walls around them, unyielding and immovable, the stone streaking with ice like frozen tear tracks, as though the mountains themselves were weeping. It the terrain wasn’t extreme enough, the arctic climate was and Bo thought she had never seen anywhere so hostile nor so beautiful.”
Throughout The Christmas Lights ($24.99, Karen Swan, Publishers Group Canada), we get to experience the town of Alesund with its small wharf of colourful houseboats, see the Norwegian folk dance the Halling, explore The Suitor and Seven Sisters waterfalls, which, according to Bo, photographs don’t do justice.
“The ground had plateaued here at the top of the mountain, the sheer cliffs rolling up to a sudden but gentle stop. It wasn’t a view that could be ignored as she stared out, letting the view wash over, her eyes began to focus and notice details as her gaze followed the terrain rolling away into the distance: snow-speckled, forest-furred mountains becoming grey bumps, becoming just a haze as the mountaintops rippled out towards the Norwegian Sea on the horizon. At the sight of it, she felt her spirits began to rise like a spring sap. Her own troubles, such as they were, seemed so inconsequential when she stood on a mountaintop and a saw the world at her feet.”
And to make up for the fact there is only five hours of daylight, Bo gets to see the Northern Lights: “…For there above their very heads, it had begun to ripple and flicker, waving diaphanous pink and green banners like rhythmic ribbons. Like the mountains the fjords that had stirred her soul on the that first day here just a few weeks ago, so now the sky danced for, dressed in its finest robes.”
(Note: While this book has Christmas in its title, it’s not a Christmas book. Christmas plays a very small role in it and you don’t realize the timing until almost the end of the book.)
The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared
We get to cross Sweden with Allan Karlsson, a 100-year-old who decides to flee his Old Folks Home right before his birthday party. Along the way, he “borrows” a suitcase, boards a bus and disappears leaving behind a man who vows to kill him and full police hunt. Allan eventually meets a cast of characters and undergoes some truly funny situations.
In between his road trip through Sweden, where we get to see regular towns and people living their lives, we learn more about Allan’s life and various historic moments that he has taken part in. We also learn some cultural aspects of Sweden including food: “The Beauty served beef and potatoes with lingonberries and beer, followed by a glass of bitters” and alcohol: “Never try to outdrink a Swede, unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian.”
At one point during Allan’s travels, he returns to Sweden, finally visiting Stockholm.
“The drive took Allan to the centre of Stockholm and he looked around him with interest. To his shame, he had never been in the capital before. It was a beautiful city indeed, with water and bridges everywhere, and none of them had been blown up.”
A copy of The Christmas Lights was provided by Publishers Group Canada
for an honest review. The opinions are my own.
Lisa Day has a passion for books – owning them, reading them, writing about them and talking about them. She carries at least one, maybe two or three, books with her at all times and when she isn't reading, she is writing about them. You can also find her on Twitter at @LisaMDayC; Instagram at @LisaMDayReads, Facebook at www.facebook.com/BookTime584 and GoodReads at http://bit.ly/ldgoodreads